Why Does The iPhone Not Have 3G On Board? – I Don’t Think It’s the Power Consumption

Carlo Longino points out on his blog that Steve Jobs has said battery capacities and immature 3G chipsets that take too much power are the reason the iPhone doesn’t have any 3G capabilities. If you want to build a phone these days that is designed for only being used for a two minute voice call once or twice a week, using a 2G chipsets is surely the right thing to do as standby power consumption is definitely lower than what 3G chipsets can do today. However, the iPhone is a multimedia device and is built for being used throughout the day for a myriad of purposes. Therefore 3G chipset power consumption is the least of your worries.

Compared to what the processor, display, background illumination, camera and memory consume during intensive use during the day, the additional power required for a 3G chipset while in standby is not worth mentioning. Even without a lot of network use my battery on the N93 is flat in the evening when I heavily use my phone during the day for taking pictures, navigating (NokiaMaps), taking notes, checking and responding to eMails, playing games, reading documents, etc. etc. All of this requires little to no network interaction. On days without a lot of activity the battery is still almost full in the evening, despite having been attached to a 3G network all day long. So 3G chipset idle mode power consumption is definitely not an issue if the phone / multimedia device is used heavily during the day.

But once you use the cellular network it doesn’t really matter if you use a 2G or 3G network. In both cases the battery is flat after two to three hours if I use the phone together with a notebook to access the Internet. I don’t think the iPhone is designed to do this but the same is true for using the network with the built in browser.

I wonder if Apple’s decision not to include 3G has more to do with the fact that you can count the number of 3G or 3.5G capable mobile phones (not datacards) in the U.S. on one hand these days. Compare that to Europe where 3G in mobile phones are already mainstream technology. If Apple had been a European company it could well be their decision would have been different.

3 thoughts on “Why Does The iPhone Not Have 3G On Board? – I Don’t Think It’s the Power Consumption”

  1. Well, some other reasons have been mentioned as well. One beeing the royalty fees that Apple would have to pay towards Qualcomm. Another one may simply be insufficient development time to implement more than one radio technology. We have to take into consideration that this is Apple’s first mobile phone and developing sophisticated phones is not an easy task.

    But let’s have another look at the power consumption argument for a minute.
    Fiddling around with a multimedia device, listening to music and watching photos is certainly power consuming. But the user has a clear understanding on that. He knows that “using” the multimedia capabilities costs power.

    But what is more difficult for him to understand is when not using the device costs a lot of power. And that exactly happens with 3G phones. You can have it in your pocket and not use it at all but at the end of the day the battery is empty. Because the mean thing with the 3G chip is that “network activity” does not necessarily mean using the phone for conversation. It also means that the phone is literally crying (with full power) for a network where no network is available.

    With the relatively low 3G coverage in the US the majority of iPhone users would probably have faced this problem hadn’t Mr. Job not avoided it altogether.

    That obviously is different in Europe and my assumption would be that the EU version is more likely to have 3G. Maybe also because the Apple engineers had a little more time to learn about HF and radio technology to achieve perfect match between power amplifier and antenna in order to not waste radiation power. Antenna mismatch, b.t.w., is one of the more sophisticated problems a radio development can face. One way to reduce it is avoiding multi-bands. 🙂

  2. I think it’s 2-part, and has nothing to do with battery.

    1. As mentioned, coverage. AT&T’s 3G coverage isn’t all over. Thus, you’d have to somewhat limit geographic availability to those 3G areas, much like AT&T did when they first launched 3G devices.


    2. If you DON”T limit the geographic availability (and even if you do) you’re going to be advertising a 3G iPhone. People are going to get it, whether they’re in a 3G area or not. Thus, you now have people trying to use a 3G iPhone in an EDGE only area, and not seeing the speeds they feel they were promised. Thus, an inferior user experience. Those three words are a BIG no-no in the Apple camp.
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